Wednesday, March 16

White Label Packaging for Cigarettes

In a follow up my blog post commenting on the FDA getting involved in cigarette packaging, it looks like England is taking it a step further. The government there is calling for no branding what-so-ever on any cigarette packaging. None. Just a white label box with warnings on it. Sort of like my other blog post where one of my students described what it's like to live in a brand-less world!

There's a quick report on it here, courtesy of Yahoo video.

Imagine that, no branding on any cigarette packaging. No colors, no logos, no Marlboro.

The government claims that this move will be particularly effective against younger consumers, those who may be just starting to smoke. Stripping the branding, and I guess the "glamour", off the packaging may make it less intriguing -- or at least that is the theory.

It's probably true, that's what branding does. It adds desire and intrigue. And packaging sets off cues, particularly at the point of purchase, of all the imagery the brand has been communicating in other vehicles. It also repeats that intrigue with every use.

I'm torn. On the one hand, I am very anti-smoking for some very personal reasons. I've seen too many people I know suffer and I don't understand why you would subject yourself to such a severe health risk. So part of me says we should do whatever it takes to deter smoking. It's public safety.

But on the other hand, I am a free market economist. And a marketer. Not sure I like the government dictating marketing elements to such an extreme. It's a slippery slope and what comes next? Alcohol? Birth control? OTC products? Within clearly defined and strict guidelines built on ethics, marketers should be allowed to do fair and responsible marketing.

Have to say that those images of stark cigarette packaging certainly make smoking seem a whole less sexier -- especially when loaded with messaging about safety. But is it a sign of more to come?

What's your experience? Jim.

PS - This week is National Book Week so please check out "The Experience Effect". Appreciate it!


  1. I am 100% against smoking. Thankfully many entities in the US - including government - do a good job educating the public about the dangers, costs and consequences of smoking. (If the ongoing TV campaign from NY doesn't scare you into quitting, nothing will. They are some of the most disturbing spots I've ever seen). I don't think a blank packaging strategy will add value to the anti-smoking messages that are already in the market.

    Like you, I am on the fence about control over product marketing elements. It doesn’t send the right message to any audience about enterprise. Worst case scenario it could spiral into other areas with radical watchdog groups finding something wrong with everything on the shelves (extreme as that sounds there is a risk of this setting some precedent). Packaging or no packaging it comes down to free will and the choice to smoke. In my mind smoking is a bigger issue because in reality it's an addiction. It takes a lot more than packaging and even price of cigarettes (I think they are >$10/pack in NY??) to encourage quitting and discourage trial in the case of new smokers. I would rather see more programs that (1) protect non-smokers who are subjected to the dangers of second hand smoke and (2) are more aggressive than blank packaging to discourage new smokers.

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